Results tagged ‘ Daniel Bard ’

Looking Back on 2011 & Assessing the Off-Season

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been.'”

It’s truly heartbreaking to imagine what “might have been” had the 2011 Red Sox not suffered their historic collapse. Fans and reporters alike anointed the Red Sox as World Series champions before pitchers and catchers even reported. It wasn’t a positive attitude that permeated spring training last season. It was assumption. This led to the insidious sense of entitlement that plagued the players, fans, and media.

After the overwhelming success the Red Sox had this past decade–two championships in four years–fans and media started to expect championships. Everyone has expectations, but it is the attitude that fans, players, and media have toward these expectations that can affect on-the-field performance.

There is no doubt that Epstein assembled an exceptional team. But I think things started to go wrong when people started to prematurely compare them to the 1927 Yankees before a game had even been played. People forgot that baseball is not played on paper. The 2011 Red Sox suffered from entitlement issues.

The collapse was slow and painful. After an less-than-thrilling April that inspired doubt, the Red Sox turned around and had an incredible summer. I spent many summer nights watching Adrian Gonzalez litter opposite-field doubles; I watched Josh Beckett have his typical odd-year success (including a one-hitter), and I watched Jacoby Ellsbury earn himself second place in the American League MVP race. It was almost too good to be true. When the Red Sox started to struggle in September, I tried not to get too concerned because they always stumble a bit in September. I wasn’t as confident that they’d win the World Series without cornerstone players such as Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. I was 100% confident they would make the playoffs though.

September 28th, 2011 is a day that will live on in infamy. It was like watching an Aristotelian tragedy, but I doubt that Aristotle himself could write something of this magnitude. I thought I was still bitter about Vladmir Guerrero ending the Red Sox’s 2009 campaign, but I will never, ever be able to erase Robert Andino’s fly ball that should have been caught by Carl Crawford. But I was still confident that the Yankees wouldn’t blow a seven run lead to the Rays.

I still maintain my conspiracy theory that the Yankees blew their seven-run lead on purpose. You don’t just leave a fastball up in the zone to Evan Longoria. I try to be objective as a fan who hopes to be a sports writer, but that was the day I lost my objectivity. I cried. It was an awful combination of disbelief, shame, and shock.

As much as I have always thought that Terry Francona is overrated as a manager, I will not assign the blame to him. I don’t think he managed his pitching staff well (you and I both know that he always leaves pitchers in too long), and I think he plays favorites. Maybe I just love national league baseball, but there are so many times where a bunt would have been effective. And there is no excuse for Jacoby Ellsbury only having 39 steals when he had a career high on-base percentage. (Obviously Crawford should be mentioned when it comes to base stealing, but he had a career low on-base percentage).

I will also not assign blame to Theo Epstein. I know he has made some mistakes with free agents (see: Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, no Carl Crawford is not on this list), but those signings were made with good intentions. Julio Lugo terrorized the Red Sox when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey was dominant in the AL West, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same amount of hype as Yu Darvish had this year. I guess the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.This is why I hate long-term contracts though. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m the only person in favor of incentive laden contracts. It’s risky to base a contract on the past, no matter how consistent the numbers are. Would incentive-based contracts really be that radical? If a player performs as he has been, he’ll get the money he wants. But it’s not fair to pay guys like John Lackey ridiculous amounts of money if he’s not performing the way he did in the past (which is why he earned the contract in the first place). I digress.

I will, however, shamelessly assign blame to the pitching staff. There is no denying that everything went wrong at once. But the beer and chicken incidents that surfaced exemplify the entitlement issues that I talked about earlier. As unacceptable as it was, one has to wonder if the same reprimanding reaction would have occurred had the Red Sox advanced in the playoffs.

Josh Beckett can argue all he wants that the 2004 champions drank whiskey in the dugout. We have to assign context to these situations, though. Kevin Millar encouraged everyone to take a shot of whiskey before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to loosen everyone up. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and others lackadaisically drank during the game on days when they were not pitching. I know it only happened once or twice, but from a fan’s perspective, it just doesn’t look good.

Changes needed to be made, and I firmly believe that change will come in the form of Bobby Valentine. I was admittedly skeptical at first (though I was delighted that I no longer have to listen to him on Sunday Night Baseball), but I think that Valentine is the perfect man for the job. Go ahead and complain about his less-than-impressive managerial record (.510), but Francona had a managerial record of .440 when he came over to the Red Sox.

The thing that really corroborated my confidence in Valentine was his attitude towards spring training. There are more PFPs, he has already added two B games (my favorite thing–I prefer them over A games), and players will now ride the bus to away games rather than driving themselves. Baseball is a team sport, and the Red Sox did not play like a team last year. Valentine doesn’t even think, like many of his colleagues, that spring training is too short. You all know that I wish spring training lasted loner, too.

I don’t think that I am the only person that notices the tension that pervades the atmosphere of this year’s spring training. Josh Beckett won’t name the players he had issues with last season, and it’s not hard to tell that Crawford was disappointed with Red Sox owner John Henry’s remarks that he did not support the signing.

It was always clear to me when I attended spring training that Josh Beckett is the ring-leader. He has an enormous influence over the younger players, and this concerns me because I don’t think he is the greatest example. I think he’s a great pitcher, but I have issues with his attitude.

There is no doubt in my mind that Carl Crawford will bounce back this season. He is the quintessential five-tool player and an incredible athlete. I’m not trying to make excuses for Crawford, but I can understand why he struggled. Transitioning to a big market team is difficult enough, but Crawford also lacked the permanence with his spot in the lineup when he was with the Rays. For some guys that matters, others it doesn’t. I’ve gotten different responses when I have asked minor league players their opinions about this, and that is what makes baseball so interesting to me: it’s all relative.

I can tell that Red Sox players are sick of discussing the collapse, which is fair. But the success of the 2012 Red Sox relies heavily on the players learning from their mistakes, which I think they have. It’s also important to leave the past in the past, and focus on the future. That being said, before I discuss the minor leagues, I’d like to go through a couple of the (major) off-season additions, and how they impact the roster.

Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney

The Red Sox sent Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. I really like this trade, and I think the Red Sox got the better end of the deal. It was tough for the Red Sox to lose Jonathan Papelbon, but we all saw this coming. He kept signing one-year deals, and it was obvious that he wanted to test free-agent waters unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz who signed multi-year deals before reaching free agency for the first time.

Trading for Bailey, who is still under arbitration, was the perfect way to avoid spending a lot of money on closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell of similar caliber. Not to mention the fact that Bailey is fantastic when he is healthy. There’s a reason that he was voted 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.

Ryan Sweeney is the perfect guy to platoon in right field with Cody Ross until Ryan Kalish returns to form. I think that trading Josh Reddick shows the confidence the organization has in Kalish. I think that Kalish is Fenway’s future right fielder if he can maintain his health.

Miles Head had an incredible campaign with Single-A Greenville the first half of the season. He hit .338 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs in 66 games. He struggled, however, when he advanced to High-A Salem where he hit .254, and suffered significant drops in his on-base and slugging percentages. Obviously the pitching becomes a lot more sophisticated in High-A, but if Head tweaks his mechanics a little bit, I think he has the potential for success.

Raul Alcantara is still extremely raw with his mechanics, and the highest level he has pitched in is Short-Season A. It is unclear to me at this point how effective he can be, but he certainly intrigued me when I watched him at extended spring training as well as the Gulf Coast League.

Mark Melancon

The Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Melancon had a terrific 2011 campaign with the Astros, and he is the perfect set up man. This trade obviously had personal repercussions for me since Jed Lowrie was my first “project,” and Kyle Weiland was my favorite pitching prospect, thus marking the second year in a row that the Red Sox traded my favorite pitching prospect.

Lowrie was always a health liability, and even though Weiland didn’t have success when he was in Boston, he showed a lot of promise in the minor leagues, and I think he will have more opportunity to succeed in a small market like Houson.

The Marco Scutaro trade

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a huge Marco Scutaro apologist. I think he was completely under appreciated during his time with the Red Sox. He didn’t choose the right time to commit his errors. He quietly batted nearly .300 last season, and he has always had a great eye. The Red Sox traded him to the Rockies for the irrelevant Clay Mortenson (though he is a former first round pick). I think the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, but they got what they really wanted, which was a salary dump, so I digress.

Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will platoon at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is not ready yet after struggling so much at the plate in 2011. No one expects Iglesias to put up numbers like Hanley Ramirez (ignoring 2011) or Troy Tulowitzki. He is heralded for his glove, not his bat. I think that the Red Sox were a little too aggressive in throwing him into Double-A his first professional season. Iglesias undoubtedly needs to see more pitching at the Triple-A level. His glove alone will not keep him in the majors. 

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I do not like Nick Punto. For those of you that wanted Scutaro gone, I’m telling you right now that you are not going to like Punto. He is overrated, and I will NOT be a happy camper if I ever see him facing a left-handed pitcher.

Free Agent Additions:

The biggest free agent additions were probably Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto (whom I have already discussed), Vincente Padilla, and Aaron Cook. Ross had a down year last season, but his swing suits Fenway Park, so that will benefit him. He and Sweeney are perfect guys for platoon roles.

Kelly Shoppach is an alright addition for a catcher (he was actually initially drafted by the Red Sox). There won’t be much there with his offense, but he is superb behind the plate. Just wait for Ryan Lavarnway to come up, it won’t be long (I’m assuming he will start the season in Triple-A). It looks like Saltalamacchia will be the leader of the catching staff. I thought he improved A LOT last year–especially in the middle of the season when he actually started to throw out runners.

Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook figure to be in the battle for the last two spots of the rotation. Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Ross Ohlendorf, and Andrew Miller also figure to be in those talks.

I don’t know if I can see Bard in the rotation. Bard consistently throws 97-100, and relies on the speed of his fastball to get hitters out. He is not going to be able to throw 97-100 for seven (ideally) innings. That being said, his changeup is typically 87-90 mph, so if he has to tone down his fastball for the sake of longevity, he’s going to have to adjust his changeup accordingly. He’s also going to have to use his secondary pitches more. He has a fantastic slider, but he lost confidence in that pitch in his abysmal September. If he can bring back the cutter, I think there’s potential for success. What bothers me, though, is that Bard resembles Aroldis Chapman and Neftali Feliz (both known for their speed), and neither have had success in the starting rotation. (Why the Rangers are trying Feliz there again, I do not know). C.J. Wilson had success in his transition because he didn’t rely as much on his speed as those pitchers do. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have my doubts.

Aceves belongs in the bullpen, in my opinion. His long-term relief is invaluable, and he was so effective out of the ‘pen last year. He can be a spot starter as we saw, but I think his spot is in the ‘pen.

If Bard is successful in his endeavors, then Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Bard would be an incredible rotation. If it doesn’t work out though, I’ll be nervous. I can’t say much about Aaron Cook and Vincente Padilla until I see them pitch in spring training, and I have no idea why the Red Sox re-signed Andrew Miller. I know he is a tall lefty with a high ceiling, but after a certain point (and a certain WHIP), you just have to let it go.I also cannot explain to you the logic behind the Ross Ohlendorf signing.

This offseason was extremely different from last year’s. There were no high-profile signings, just a lot of low-risk high reward type signings. It reminds me a lot of the offseason going into the 2008 season with the John Smoltz and Brad Penny experiments. Those did not work out. I’m confident in the offense, I feel pretty good about the bullpen, and Daniel Bard is pretty much the determining factor when it comes to my feelings about the starting rotation.

 

 

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I wasn’t too concerned after the Rangers swept the Red Sox. After all, the Rangers went on to sweep the Mariners–including Felix Hernandez–in their next series.

Granted, the box scores weren’t as pathetic as they were in Texas; though they still are a bit deceptive. Neither Josh Beckett nor Daisuke Matsuzaka had a quality start. They both gave up three runs in their five innings. One could easily argue that a starter who gives up three runs keeps his team in the game and gives them an opportunity to win.

Lasting five innings is what is ineffective. Both Beckett and Matsuzaka had alarmingly high pitch counts in nearly all of their respective innings. This is almost characteristic of Matsuzaka, but it is fairly unusual for Beckett.

What concerns me is not the fact that the Red Sox lost six in a row. What concerns me is that not a single one of their starting pitchers had a quality start. Five bad quality starts in a row is a red flag for any team. If a team loses three close, well played games in a row, it’s frustrating, but not necessarily concerning.

The Red Sox pitching can’t be the only scapegoat. The offense was rather anemic, and struggled to string hits together in important situations. There is no ‘I’ in team, and I feel like the fans, including myself, as well as the media have been focusing on individual players, rather than team as one whole entity.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a phrase used to describe the Gestalt theory in Psychology. Essentially, the Gestalt effect is our form-generating sense. When we look at a figure, instead of seeing a bunch of lines and curves, we see the figure itself.

Similarly, I think when looking at the Red Sox, or any team for that matter, its how the team as a whole performs, and not just individual players. With the Red Sox, it is particularly easy to fixate on guys like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and especially their high-profile newcomers in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

But baseball is a team sport, and that phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is especially relevant. Jon Lester may have broken the trend of bad quality starts in the last game in Cleveland, but his offense did nothing to back him up. He threw seven innings of shut out baseball giving up only three hits and striking out nine. Not only did Lester break the trend of bad quality starts, but he also put to rest–at least for now–the qualms that many have of his notoriously bad Aprils.

That game was frustrating because Lester pitched so well, and it was only Daniel Bard’s lead off walk that ended up proving costly. But damn if that suicide squeeze wasn’t beautiful. I always say that small ball wins games, and this was one of the few times that it was not fun to be right.

The Red Sox finally won their first game of the year against the Yankees, but still, all was not perfect. Normally, a start in which the pitcher lasts five innings and gives up six runs is not redeeming, but because of Lackey’s disastrous last start, I suppose it was. Luckily, the Red Sox’ potent lineup finally showed its true colors. The offense was finally able to string some hits together–especially with runners in scoring position.

It’s hard to attribute the Red Sox’ bad start to one thing, but I do think their ten game losing streak during Spring Training had something to do with it. I’ll be the first person to say that I hardly take spring training statistics seriously, but I do take them with a grain of salt.

I hardly kept up with Major League Spring Training, but I did hear the tidbits that the Red Sox lost about ten games in a row, and Kevin Youkilis struggled at the plate. Believe me, I understand that Spring Training is a time to get your timing back, but this was unusual for Youkilis.

Perhaps the Red Sox were a little aloof during spring training, and I think it is possible that it carried over into the regular season. Spring Training is a time to get back into the grind, not to put things in cruise control. If the Red Sox had a slightly better start to the season, I don’t think anybody would think twice about their rather poor spring training, but I think that this is a reasonable speculation.

Things just have to click for the Red Sox; that’s really all it is.

Minor Leagues:

Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day was on Thursday, April 7th. Triple-A Pawtucket, Double-A Portland, and Single-A Greenville all won their home openers. Portland was the first Red Sox affiliate to collect a victory, and I don’t think anybody thought they would win a game before the Red Sox themselves.

Alex Wilson got the Opening Day call for Portland, and had a pretty decent day. Sox Prospects senior scout Chris Mellen was at the Portland game, and commented that Wilson was getting a lot more swinging strikes on his fastball. Wilson spent the second half of the season in Portland last year and struggled, so it is encouraging to see a more sophisticated fastball from him.

Will Middlebrooks, Alex Hassan, Ryan Dent, and Tim Federowicz all had hits in their Double-A debuts. In fact, Middlebrooks’ hit was also an RBI, and Federowicz’s was a home run.

In the first two games, Hassan has raked. Last night he went 3-5 with two RBIs.

Even though this is only once instance, I noticed that Middlebrooks laid off a 3-2 slider, which is something that bothered him during Spring Training.

In Greenville, Brandon Jacobs and Jose Garcia hit back-to-back home runs, and third-round pick Sean Coyle hit an RBI double in his professional debut.

The 36th overall pick, Bryce Brentz hit a grand slam. First baseman Miles Head apparently made a fantastic play in foul territory, barreling over a railing into the dugout, and stayed in the game despite being slow to get back up.

Jason Thompson and Christian Vazquez each hit a triple. Felix Sanchez hit a triple in the second game.

Last night in Greenville, Kyle Stroup threw five innings of one hit ball, striking out six.

On the first pitch he saw in Triple-A, Jose Iglesias hit a single, and hit a second one in his following at-bat. It was especially encouraging to see such a nice debut from him since his offensive skills were the biggest question in placing him in Double-A or Triple-A.

Juan Carlos Linares hit a 2 RBI triple in Pawtucket’s home opener. Last night, Yamaico Navarro went 3-4 with two doubles, Ryan Kalish went 2-4 with two RBis, and Lars Anderson hit a double.

On Opening Day, Michael Bowden, who transitioned to the bullpen last season, actually closed the game. He threw a 1-2-3 inning, and threw nine of his ten pitches for strikes. He was also hitting 94 mph on the radar gun consistently.

In Pawtucket’s second game, Jason Rice threw two scoreless innings, striking out three.

Salem’s home opener was rained out last night, but there is a double header this afternoon. Drake Britton will be starting the first one. 39th overall pick, Anthony Ranaudo, will make his professional debut for Greenville tonight.

Stolmy Pimentel is currently throwing for Double-A Portland.   

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.

If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.

The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.

As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.

This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.

It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
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I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
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I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.

I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.

Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.

Adrian Gonzalez  will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.

I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.

1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate. 

2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
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I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs. 

What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.

The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.

The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move. 

Even though it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that all of these guys are going to have great careers. After all, they are my projects. In fact, I would be willing to be that one day, these are the guys that teams are going to be trading their big minor league prospects for. I wish them nothing but the best in their careers, which I will still monitor closely. As for Adrian Gonzalez, I look forward to seeing him rake in a Red Sox uniform.

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

Taking you Behind the Scenes of a Red Sox Spring Training Workout

32 autographs and Spring Training games haven’t even started yet; I guess I’ve gotten kind of good at this. You guys know how I got six of them, but here is a refresher if you need one. Tonight, I will share with you the stories behind the other 26 autographs. 20 of them occurred today at the Players’ Development Complex, and five occurred quite unexpectedly (I think I’ll share those on another day though). 
Today was probably the most fantastic, unforgettable day of my life. There was supposedly an open house at City of Palms Park, with family events, tours, and autographs. As many of you can probably guess, the latter was my inspiration. I didn’t really know what to expect at this event, especially with the autographs situation. Were the players really going to take an entire day off just to sign autographs for the fans? The answer was no, so it was a good thing that my father and I arrived early. There were lots of big buses around the stadium that were shuttling fans to and from the Players’ Development Complex right down the street. I had never been there before considering parking is absolutely forbidden, and I didn’t really know what exactly went on around there. I had never been to a workout before; in the past, I had only gone to games. Hopefully this will become a yearly ritual though because the workouts are almost as fun as the games. 
The emotions I’m feeling right now can’t be put into words: I’m on cloud nine. So I’ll just take you through my day, and hopefully, you can live vicariously through me, and experience the kind of elation that I feel right now. 
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When you think of Spring Training, you normally think of warm, sunny Florida or Arizona, right? Well, that was certainly not the case today. It was cold and rainy, but as most of you know, that wasn’t going to stop me. My teeth were chattering the entire time, my lips were probably blue, but I didn’t care because there was no place on earth that I would have rather been. So we walked in, and I immediately recognized one of the security guards, John. He had worked at Spring Training last season, and he is a security guard for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He’s a great guy! We got to talking a bit, and as we got on to the topic of Spring Training games, he mentioned that he had some extra tickets to games on April 1 and 2. They are the first row behind the dugout, and he offered them to us at face value. Not only that, but he also trusted us enough to send him a check because we didn’t have enough cash on us to cover both tickets. 
After that, I wandered around a bit to try and find the best spot for collecting autographs. It was very hard because unfortunately, I can’t be in three different places at once. Unfortunately, guys like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre, and Jed Lowrie weren’t too into signing at that point. They went straight from the field to the cages, but I guess we remember that they have a job to do. So I moved to a small, uncrowded path between Fields 1 and 2. Perfect! All of the players had to walk to the other field at some point, so most of them stopped to sign. 
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It all started as Ramon Ramirez (the one you’re familiar with, not the non-roster invitee) walked off the field. He quickly signed for me, as well as some of the people around me. I met an especially nice, young couple from MA, who had been living in the Ft. Myers area for the past few years, but were moving back soon. The woman was having the players sign her “Wally the Green Monster” book for her baby. 
Then, Daniel Bard came jogging along. He signed for a couple of people quickly, but had to move on. 
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Adam Mills followed, a guy who I am very excited to watch this spring. Well, I let him know what I thought about him, and he certainly appreciated it. Not many people around me knew who he was though, so I was boasting about him as he was signing, and he had a big grin on his face. 
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Hope was not lost for a photo with Daniel Bard. On his way out, he was kind enough to pose for a quick photo with me. He seems to be twice my height, much taller than I thought he would be. 
We watched Dustin Richardson throw some batting practice, and I told everyone how excited I was to see him pitch this spring. It was great that I was getting all of these pitchers’ autographs because I rarely have a chance during the actual games since the bullpen is hard to get to. Dustin Richardson jogged by despite my “You’re my favorite pitcher!” plea. I haven’t decided if he’s officially my favorite pitcher, but he’s certainly up there. He said he had to run, but that he would come back. I was determined to hold him to his word, but I was worried for a bit because a lot of the players were leaving through an alternative exit. 
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Well as he finished up his drills, I called to him. He came right over, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him during the spring last year, and how well he did during September, and how excited I was to see him this spring. He definitely appreciated it, and I gave him my card with the link to this site. 
Then, the guys from Single-A and Double-AA who weren’t invited to spring training started warming up for their practice. I got autographs from some of them, and even a few pictures. Before their practice, they watched the big league guys practice. Hopefully they’ll be up there soon. 
I looked to my right and saw that s
ome of the big leaguers were signing on their way out. I ran over to Field 3, grabbed my Dustin Pedroia salsa, and stood in what was probably the most inconvenient spot possible. “Dustin, I have your salsa!!” I yelled. He looked over and chuckled, and that’s all that I needed. 
Then Victor Martinez started to walk out with his two, adorable children. He was kind enough to sign, but somehow managed to skip over my ball. The fence was so high, so it was hard to get a good angle. Autographs are much better when you can see the player’s face anyway. 
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I gave up on that endeavor when I noticed that Kevin Youkilis was signing. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, so I ran over to what I think was Field 4, and patiently waited. He was great about signing! Not only did he sign for me, but he also posed for a picture! 
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I walked over to the area outside of Field 2, and I managed to snag Luis Exposito’s signature on his way out. He has promised me before, so he kept his word as well! 
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Then, I noticed that Lars Anderson, Zach Daeges, and a few other guys were standing in a circle talking. I asked them to come around the fence for a second to chat, and they obliged. Lars said that he liked my glasses, I told him that he could have them, but he said they looked better on me. He was happy to wear them for the picture though. 
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Zach Daeges remembered me from when I last met him, and he said that he was real excited to start the season. He had yet to check out this site though, even after I informally interviewed him! 
It seemed like it was over after that, but it was a good thing we stayed because a few more players were coming out. I was able to catch some of Josh Reddick’s batting practice, and he said he would meet me at the bleachers afterwards to sign and talk for a bit. 
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Meanwhile, I was able to catch Tug Hutlett, Gil Velazquez and Aaron Bates on their way out. Tug said I deserved an autograph for waiting in the rain. 
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Perhaps my favorite conversation was the one I had with Josh. For some reason, I remember his very first at-bat during Spring Training of last season, so I asked if he remembered it. We talked about it, and I told him that I knew that he was going to be my project just from watching that at-bat. He seemed to enjoy that, and I also gave him my card. 
Practice seemed to be over for the day, so we hopped on the bus back to City of Palms Park to see what was going on. Most of the activities were cancelled because of the rain, but it was mostly stuff for the little kids anyway. Then again, I’d go in a bounce house if one of the players went with me. 
We were allowed to check out the dugouts though, so I thought that would be pretty cool. I didn’t stop at just the dugout though. I noticed the little path that leads to the clubhouse, and so I decided to check it out. 
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It’s not my fault if people leave doors open. That’s right folks, I went inside the Red Sox clubhouse. The clubhouse: the final frontier. Well, that frontier didn’t last very long. The clubhouse guy, Sgt, (he used to be in the military) asked me to leave, but he let me take a quick picture. 
I was thinking about leaving until I saw a long line of people. They were waiting for Kris Johnson, Casey Kelly, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish. It took a while for things to get started, and apparently we weren’t allowed to pose for photos. Really? I had just snuck into the clubhouse; I could easily get a photo. 
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These were actually the most amusing guys of the day. They signed my baseball (a new one, because I filled my others and the hat up) and smiled for pictures. I gave them the link to my blog and Kris Johnson said, “What is this? Are you writing good things about me?” “Yes, yes of course!” I said. “Oh that’s what they all say,” Kalish said jokingly. Well, if they do end up checking it out, then they’ll see all the nice things that I say about them. 
It was real nice meeting them, but they were the only autographers for the event. I went back down to the field and decided to check out the visitor’s clubhouse, and to see which doors were open down there. 
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Sgt. was there again! We actually talked for a bit, and he let me stay for a bit longer that time. I have officially been in both clubhouses. 
Then we started talking to this really nice security guard, Tom. He showed us the bullpen area, and he mentioned that I should try and get a press pass for Spring Training. I’m definitely going to get on that. You see, I don’t just want it as a fan, or anything like that. I’m really serious about this. 
Then we saw those Single-A and Double-AA guys, and I spotted Ryan Westmoreland, or rather, he spotted me. He waved to me, so I went down and talked to him for a second. He was real nice! 
As we were getting ready to go, I spotted Ryan Kalish and Casey Kelly walking around with some italian ices. I stopped them to talk to them. “Kris was looking for you…” Casey said. “You spelled analysis wrong on your card”. 
“Analyses is the plural of analysis!” I said. “Can you please tell him that? Make sure he knows!” Kelly promised me he would, but then I got to talking to him a little longer, and he was really down to earth. 
“How was it deciding between being a shortstop and a pitcher?” I wanted to hear it from him. 
He said it was easy once he sat down with the guys and talked about it. They said he would rise faster as a pitcher, so it was easy from there. I asked him if he knew when he was going to be starting during the Spring, but he didn’t. I asked him to start on Saturdays though so that I could see him, and he said that he would ask the organization if he could start on Saturdays for me. 
Well folks, that was the day! I hope that you were able to live vicariously through me, and I hope that my words were able to bring my experience to life–at least to an extent. I know that many of you live up North, so I hope that I can be your vehicle to Spring Training. You can read the recaps and the story lines, but this is one of the only places where you’ll get the true experience of the spring. 
I’ll end this entry by quoting Star Trek: These are my voyages. My ongoing mission: to boldly go to strange new worlds (the clubhouse), to seek out new life-forms (discover prospects) and new civilizations (?); to boldly go where no one has gone before. 

Flares (Flair?) for the Dramatic

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The minute that my exam finished, I was so happy. The main reason being that I could finally get back to watching baseball. The fact that the Red Sox won the night before my exam, and the night of, really helps seal the deal for me. I mean, besides the fact that I forgot to mention the cotton gin in my DBQ (about the expansion of slavery), I think I did fine. 

Plus, the Sox finally won a series against the Rays. That took long enough. In a way, I miss the days where we could walk all over them, but in another sense, I do like the rivalry… a lot. Jason Varitek has been getting some nice, key hits, and it’s not like I need to mention Mr. Clutch-hitter (Jason Bay). You know, I’m sure he did this in Pittsburgh all the time, but with the whole media attention thing, I guess it went unnoticed. 
I’m still calling a home run every time Big Papi comes to bat, but each game he goes without one just represents how special the first one will be. I know he wants it, and I know it’s on his mind all the time, so I think he needs a sports psychologist. Calling Emily… 
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The Red Sox also did what they finally needed to do–letting Javier Lopez go. That guy has given me heart attacks ever since he came to the Red Sox, and this year it has gotten even worse. Every time he came in this year, it was basically saying, ‘We concede to you,’. Whether it be the various errors that result in walk-off wins, or maybe just blowing leads, it was time to go. 
This is the best thing the Red Sox have done since reacquiring Kason Gabbard (yeah, they do good things often). The bullpen is basically impeccable now. I am confident with everyone in there, even though Papelbon has been having a bit of a “flair for the dramatic” lately. Okay, I just lied… I’m not AS comfortable with Hunter Jones (maybe because I didn’t see him much during spring training), but he’s done alright. 
I was happy that the Sox brought up Daniel Bard. You guys should have seen him in spring training. He has a 100 mph fastball and posted a 0.00 ERA during spring training, and his stats aren’t half bad down in Triple AAA Pawtucket either. Speaking of which, I’m planning on visiting the PawSox this summer. I cannot wait. 
I didn’t even drink coffee to keep myself up for the West Coast game last night. I had taken a two hour nap (and thus, avoided homework) and was pretty much ready to go. Justin Masterson was all over the place, but his quote was so funny “A ball here, a ball there, a strike every once and a while”. So his control was a bit off, but he did manage to only give up two runs. 
I really thought that I was in for it when the Red Sox tied it at 3. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too late of a night, because I was still pretty tired. Luckily, Jason Varitek came through with a single, and Pap was to come in to close the ninth. 
This one was not as dramatic as the Mother’s Day save where he put two men on (who then advanced to second and third) and then struck the next three guys out. It was pretty epic. This one ended in a less dramatic fashion, but with the same results. 
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And a special shout out to Dom Dimaggio who passed away not so long ago. He was probably one of the most underrated players ever, but when your brother is Joe Dimaggio and your teammate is Ted Williams, what can you expect? I love the fact that he was called the “little professor” on the team. Dustin Pedroia kind of reminds me of him (or his build at least). Dom also holds the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history at 34 games. 
The Other 29 Teams that I keep up with 
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Ryan Zimmerman and his hitting streak, that’s gotta be great for the miserable Nats (no offense). But in all honesty, I don’t think he’ll catch Dimaggio. That record is going to last a long time. 
The ERAs under one? Zack Grienke and Johan Santana? I have basically awarded the Cy Young to the two of them already. And by the way, I’m not concerned with the lackluster performances that some of the Red Sox starters have been having because honestly, it’s pretty much been limited to one inning. 
If I remember correctly, Jon Lester started out (2-3) last season as well. And then he turned into “one of the best left handed pitchers in the game). 
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Albert Pujols. I think that he has the potential to win the Triple Crown. But how cool would it be if a Red Sox won it? Not because they’re my favorite team, but because the last person to win it was a Red Sox, in 1967…. Mr. Carl Yastrzemski. By the way, I think Yastrzemski should be a spelling bee word, it’s impossible to spell. 

2009 Red Sox Pitching Preview

I guess I could just give you guys the same predictions that everyone else has… but I don’t really want to do that. I’m going to break down each position, and briefly look at every player. Tonight, I want to look at pitching. I’ll tell you guys how I think their 2009 season will be, and what they will need to do to either come over the 2008 woes, or maintain their 2008 heights. 

Starting Pitching: This year, the Red Sox have some familiar faces in the first four slots for the rotation. The only thing that is different is their fifth spot– they didn’t just hand it over to Clay Buchholz like they did last year (not that they had much of a choice). In fact, despite an impressive spring, Clay won’t even be starting the season with the Red Sox! During the offseason, the Red Sox picked up Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Sure Brad Penny is no CC Sabbathia, but he can sure matchup with AJ Burnett pretty well. And John Smoltz may not be in the prime of his career, but I think that he has some words of wisdom that he can pass down to the guys. Justin Masterson could have filled the fifth starting spot very nicely, but I’ll tell you guys why I think he’ll work out very nicely in the bullpen. 
Josh Beckett: We all know that Beckett has the stuff that can put him in the realm of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but whenever he is injured, he spends so much time recovering, that he isn’t really that dominant. Luckily, Beckett will be starting the season with the Red Sox, and Opening Day for that matter. In 2007 he went 20-7, and in 2008 he went 12-10. So what happened? I agree with the people who have said that he was catching up to himself that entire year. He got injured during Spring Training so he didn’t have a lot of time to get into his rhythm. When he was ready to return, he was thrown right out into a high pressure atmosphere. Guys need Spring Training… just look at Jake Peavy! 
Jon Lester: Lester’s comeback from cancer story is really nice and inspiring and all, but honestly, it’s time to get over it, and he thinks so too. He has said that he wants to be known as a pitcher, not the kid that came back from cancer. Nonetheless, every time he pitches I’m sure we’ll be hearing the story. Anyway, we saw what this guy could do in 2008, his stuff is lethal. Not to mention the fact that he has added a changeup to his arsenal, and oh yeah his performance in the playoffs. There are two things that he needs to remember, and that we need to remember about him.
1. He cannot get overconfident with himself. In the ALCS, everyone had penciled him in for a win because of his performance in the ALDS. I think we let ourselves get a little to confident, and I think he got a little too confident. He needs to focus on executing his pitches, not the fact that statistically, he will probably win this game.
2. He is still really young, so he is still growing. We can’t expect him to be perfect. He’s going to go through some ups and downs. Luckily, he has got Jason Varitek behind the plate, and John Smoltz for some guidance. 
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K obviously performed really well last year: going 18-3 with an ERA under 3.00. The thing is, he wouldn’t usually go that deep. And the reason that he wouldn’t go that deep: walks. I know that he has a remarkable ability to get out of jams (that he creates with his walks), but I would much rather him try to impress me by going into the seventh inning more often. When he would only go five innings last year, that would put extra stress on our not so deep bullpen. This year, if he can go a bit deeper, and put not so much stress on our much deeper bullpen… well, wouldn’t that be a lot better? 
Tim Wakefield: Everything is better at 62 mph right? Well, that is until the batters time down the knuckle ball and start hitting it all over the place. The good thing about Wakefield is that he can go pretty deep into games. The uncertain part is that he is either on or off… there is very little middle ground. Some nights he’ll have great command, and other nights it’s just not there. Still, it is really fun to watch Wakefield baffle hitters with that knuckleball. 
Brad Penny: The fact that he was 6-9 last year definitely reduced his free agent worth. On the other hand, in 2007 he went 16-4. AJ Burnett on the other hand was one of the must valuable free agents out there. Yet if you compare their numbers, I’d consider them equals. 
John Smoltz: I honestly am not really sure as to how John Smoltz’s numbers will be this season. His role is obviously quite similar to what Curt Schilling’s was supposed to be last season. So where the heck is he going to fit into the rotation when he returns in June? Good question, because I have the same one. I don’t think that the Red Sox would put him or Brad Penny in the bullpen because they could both serve very effectively as starters. So could the Red Sox have a six man rotation? This could work out very well when various injuries start happening throughout the season. 
Bullpen: Last year, the bullpen tended to be a problem for the Red Sox. This year, it could be what makes the difference in October. With some very nice additions this bullpen could be considered one of the best in baseball. 
Manny Delcarmen: This guy definitely improved last year, and I think I had under appreciated him in past years. Last year, he appeared in 73 games (74 innings) with a 3.74 ERA. I don’t really consider him a set up man, but I love having him as a true middle reliever. 
Javier Lopez: He is another one of those guys that is either totally on or totally off. So sometimes, I start pacing my living room when he comes in. I see him come in for only one batter a lot, but that’s because he is a lefty specialist. He pitched great in the World Baseball Classic, and I think I underrate him too because his highest ERA in a Boston uniform is 3.10. 
Justin Masterson: I am so excited to have him here for Opening Day! Last year, he showed us that he can be effective both as a starter and a reliever. So why isn’t he starting then? If he gets the fifth slot, than where would we put Brad Penny? Brad obviously has more experience as a starter, and Justin honestly makes a difference in that bullpen. In the postseason, I loved having either Okajima-Masteron-Papelbon, or Masterson-Okajima-Papelbon. I think he’ll have a really nice year in the bullpen. 
Hideki Okajima: Although Okajima was not as consistent last year as he was in 2007, he still did pretty well. Like I’ve said, inconsistency is bound to happen, and I still think that he can be really effective this year. The good part is, we won’t have to rely on him that much seeing that we picked up Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito. 
Ramon Ramirez: An extra set up man for the Red Sox! He was the set-up guy for the Royals, and he had a great season last year. I know that he has the stuff, but from what I’ve not
iced this spring, he just needs to maintain his command. The biggest thing will be the transition from Kansas City to Boston. There is always a lot more scrutiny and attention in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but as long as he stays focused, I’m not concerned. 
Takashi Saito: So this guy posted some pretty spectacular numbers as a closer for the Dodgers, and now he’s coming to the Red Sox just as a set-up man? That’s pretty awesome. But I think that we can still use him to close some games–in fact, I think that we should. At the end of last season… the very end, I’m talking Game 7 of the ALCS… Papelbon wasn’t even available to pitch. He was worn out, and I think we used him way too much throughout the entire season. I’m not saying that he and Saito should split time, but if Papelbon has been working a lot, I think that Saito is definitely qualified to close out a game. 
Jonathan Papelbon: We all know that Papelbon is a very dominant guy, but he did blow a few saves last season. In fact, he blew two in a row. I remember thinking that he needed some rest! We work this poor guy to death (not that we had any other option). But now, I feel much more comfortable that we have guys that will be able to fill in when he needs an off day. Papelbon obviously has a great mentality, so he definitely needs to maintain that, and if he does, I think that he will have a great season. 
Keep your eyes open for: Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard. I think that we will see all of them throughout the entire season. Also, keep tabs on Junichi Tazawa’s progress. 
Offensive/Defensive preview to come either late tomorrow, or early Monday!! 

The End of Spring Training, the Beginning of a New Chapter

I have to tell you guys, I’m absolutely ecstatic for Opening Day. I can’t get it out of my mind, it’s all I ever want to talk about, and after an extended Spring Training– it’s about time. 

Not that the extended Spring Training was bad or anything. I’m glad that we had it. It gave guys like Dustin who maybe start off the season a bit slow extra time to get into their rhythm. Most importantly though, it gave my projects a little extra time to prove themselves. 
That sounds weird right? The most important aspect of Spring Training being the minor leaguers? Spring Training is a time to look at the guys that performed best in the minor leagues, and see if any of them could help your team. 
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We all already know what the guys from last year could do. We know that Ellsbury is the fastest guy out there, and we know that somehow Pedroia’s strike zone has no limits. We know that Tim Lincecum has the coolest windup in baseball, and we know that Jimmy Rollins will be dancing in the dugout. 
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Tell us something we don’t know, or something that we didn’t expect. That’s what Spring Training is about. It’s about Daniel Bard’s 0.00 ERA, it’s about Clay Buchholz talking to John Smoltz and then feeling a new whirl of confidence. It’s about Chris Carter dragging coaches out to the backfield to work on his defense, and it’s about the future. 
That’s why I’m a little sad that it’s over. I’m going to miss talking to all the fans at the game, and waiting for two and a half hours in the rain just for some autographs. This year, I have become much more conscious of the minor leaguers. We both have something in common: we both dream of becoming a part of the Red Sox in the future. They will be playing for them, and I will be writing about them. 
After a while though, Spring Training does get a little tedious, but only because we’re so anxious for Opening Day! It’s kind of like what I’m feeling at school right now. Spring Break starts tomorrow, and let’s just say my brain left about a week ago. 
There is a certain type of excitement that you can detect when you talk about Opening Day with people. Everyone has a reason to be excited and nervous about their team. I know that on Opening Day that I want the Red Sox to beat the Rays, and that Rays Renegade wants just the opposite. 
But both of us share one thing in common: We want baseball back, and our thirst will finally be quenched. This upcoming Monday, our nation will be united, and baseball will be the unifier. 
Chapter 10 of Their Eyes Were Watching God ends with: “So she sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, quenching the thirst of the day”. Janie, the main character of the book, is starting a new chapter in her life, and like her, we will be too. 
2009 is going to bring about some memories that we will be able to talk about forever. We will be watching history in the making… classic games in the making. Every game means something, but like I said last October, we have to focus on winning every inning before winning the game… every at-bat, and every pitch. 
It all counts. One little mistake, and the at-bat could change, the inning could change, and the game could change. Every game counts, and every game is a step on the road to October. 
The thing about baseball is that every team has an equal chance to win a game. That is to say, there is a perfect balance in baseball. I wrote about this in my research paper a little bit. Just think about the structure of it. 
As Professor Michael Novak pointed out, “Another two feet between them might settle the issue decisively between them”. Wouldn’t another two feet between the bases significantly impact the game? There may be statistics, but the structure of the game is inherently democratic. That is why it is America’s game. 
Even though some of America’s attempts at spreading democracy throughout the world may have failed, it has given another great gift to the world: baseball. 
As Walt Whitman put it, “Baseball relieves us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set… let us leave our close rooms, the game of ball is glorious”. 

“Baseball Bubble”

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Today, I realized something– I can tell you more about baseball than I can about global issues– way more. I honestly did not know the name of the North Korean dictator until this afternoon. Is this bad? I remember Jane mentioning a story similar to this in her book. She was reading the newspaper and some kind of headline like ‘The Tribe is Suffering’ came up, and she thought it was about the Cleveland Indians. I’m not going to lie to you, upon reading it, I thought she was referencing the Cleveland Indians as well. I live in my own little baseball bubble as well. 

For example, in math today, when my teacher asked me the scores of the World Baseball Classic from Sunday, I was perfectly able to recite that. When he asked me to find the external arc of a circle, I was clueless. 

During my Life Skills class, we began learning about drugs; so we were each assigned a drug to research and present to the class. I kindly forced asked the student next to me to switch topics with me so I could write about steroids. Don’t get me wrong, I will talk about steroids in my project, but I think I’m going to go on a long tangent about steroids in baseball, and then go on to talk about Pete Rose and how it’s ridiculous that he is not in the Hall of Fame. 
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I had heard about the rumored Jon Lester deal yesterday, but it wasn’t until I was watching Team USA beat up on Team Venezuela that I heard that the deal was finalized. It was a five year deal worth $30 million, with a $14 million option for 2014! This is what the Red Sox have been doing all offseason: locking up their proven young players! We all know that Jon Lester had a breakout year last year. I don’t need to re-emphasize his no-hitter and that great comeback story of his. The bottom line is: he is a good pitcher. He has great command of his fastball, and is even working on a changeup! At this pace, he is on the track to becoming one of the most feared left handed pitchers of the game. 
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A-Rod is officially having surgery, though, not the same surgery that Mike Lowell had on his torn labrum. I think this is “arthroscopic surgery” and they few medical terms that I know are the ones that I have heard of on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. This is not one of them. However, from what I have gathered, this surgery will allow A-Rod to return in 6-9 weeks rather than 12-16 weeks. This was the right decision.
Like I’ve said before, it was painful for me to watch Mike Lowell play last season, and it was painful for him. If it’s already painful for Alex, it was only going to get worse. This surgery will minimize the damage, and he will have the rest of the surgery after the season. Plus, this gives A-Rod some down time. With this steroid scandal, and his inability to keep a straight story, and all Torre’s blows to him– he needs some time off. 
So what are the Yankees to do in the meantime without their cleanup batter? Alright so they have Cody Ransom to fill the void at third base, but that does not fill the offensive void. The Yankees are going to have to totally re-work their lineup. Sure Mark Teixeira has a bat, but other than him, the offense is a tad on the mediocre side. Luckily they have some serious pitching to balance that. 
World Baseball Classic 
The USA is redeeming itself after the 2006 tournament as it did not falter after its first win. They beat Team Venezuela 15-6 thanks to some key hits off of the shaky Venezuelan bullpen, and some strong relief pitching. 
Roy Oswalt had a decent outing, but definitely not the best. The problem is, these games actually matter (in a sense). This is still Spring Training to some of these guys. The guys on international teams have been playing Winter Ball. These guys? This is just the start of stuff for them. 
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The US broke it open in the sixth inning by scoring eight runs. Mark DeRosa hit a triple and batted in a total of four runs. Chris Iannetta had a great bases clearing double and also had four RBIs. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with Ianetta. Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn hit their second home runs of the classic, and Ryan Braun hit his first. Dustin Pedroia had a great play at second base if you guys didn’t get to see it. It was one of those plays that NO ONE should make. 
The bullpen was backed by some great run support so Ziegler’s two earned runs and Bell’s one were not that significant. Matt Lindstrom of the Florida Marlins picked up the win. 
Red Sox Spring Training
On Sunday I had to go to school for an American History catch up day– didn’t mind too much because I love that class. Anyway, the class started at one, and there was a Red Sox vs Rays game at one. Luckily, my friend lent me his iPhone so I was periodically refreshing the play-by-play throughout the whole class. 
Julio Lugo had a great day as he went 3-3 with two RBIs and two doubles. My project, Nick Green, hit a home run, as did Zach Daeges (despite his weird batting stance) and Jonathan Van Every. 
Justin Masterson pitched three beautiful innings of one hit ball and was followed by Jonathan Papelbon, who threw a scoreless inning but allowed two runs. Did I mention that he is working on a slider? Yet another pitch to vanquish victims. Daniel Bard (potential project) struck out the side, and Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden each allowed one run. 
I have now set a goal for Michael Bowden: one outing without any earned runs! 
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The Red Sox played an exciting game today against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which the Red Sox won on an RBI double by Josh Reddick in the bottom of the tenth. I watched the first two innings during my Life Skills class while “researching” steroids. I wasn’t just going to pass up that opportunity.
One of my projects, Jeff Bailey, went 3-4 with a double and an RBI. Project Nick Green hit another home run as did Dusty Brown. I remember Dusty Brown from last year’s Spring Training and from a Pawtucket game. I like him, but I need to see a bit more of him to decide his project potential. 
Josh Bard continued to
make his presence known by hitting another home run today and collecting three RBIs. I’m thinking that this whole competition thing is making Lowrie a little nervous. I just want him to be himself, because I know he can do well either starting on off the bench. 
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